As the New York Jets face a crossroads in their franchise history while they determine the future of their quarterback, head coach and general manager, let's take a time machine back to a happier place.
We don't have to go back far, just about three-and-a-half years ago to April of 2009.
Jets fans were tired of the bumbling game-management issues of the Herman Edwards era and the staid secrecy and lifelessness that marked Eric Mangini's years.
NFL fans across the country couldn't care less whether the Jets won or lost. They didn't know who Mike Tannenbaum or Woody Johnson were. What they knew about the Jets was that Edwards gave funny press conferences and Mangini once appeared on The Sopranos.
The team had some successful regular seasons but had won just two playoff games during the decade.
During that time, the team bounced from Vinny Testaverde to Chad Pennington as their main quarterbacks with one forgetful season with Brooks Bollinger at the helm.
But in 2009 it was time to move on.
Mangini's paranoid and meticulous ways caused a quick exit, and after Brett Favre used the Jets for one good season, it was time to move on from him too.
With Favre gone, the only two quarterbacks on the Jets' roster were Kellen Clemens and Brad Smith.
Clearly, it was time for a new quarterback in New York.
That takes us to April 25, 2009; the exact point where uninformed Jets fans and clueless Jets haters across the country like to point out the Jets' "blunder" in drafting Mark Sanchez.
To add extra salt in the wounds, and to try to appear that they might even know something about football, some might point out that the Jets were foolish enough to actually trade up to nab him.
This is where people need to be taught a little history lesson.
One thing everyone can agree on is that the Jets clearly needed a quarterback.
There were three ways to get a quarterback at that time: through trade, free agency or the draft.
That takes us to Cutler. Before jumping to conclusions about how the Jets should have made a push for him, the Broncos wanted a starting NFL quarterback back for him in return. That's something the Jets didn't have to give.
The Bears ultimately gave up Kyle Orton, two first-round picks and a third-round pick for Cutler. That price is too steep for someone with less playoff wins and more grumpy attitude than Sanchez.
Now, on to free agency.
Let's list all the free-agent quarterbacks who changed teams in 2009 and see which one you would want instead of Sanchez.
There was Damon Huard, J.T. O'Sullivan, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Todd Bouman, Brian St. Pierre, John Beck, Rex Grossman, Dan Orlovsky, Joey Harrington, Jeff Garcia, Kyle Boller, Charlie Frye, Charlie Batch, Patrick Ramsey or Luke McCown.
The Jets could have also gone with a 37-year-old Kerry Collins, who went 0-6 with the Titans that year.
So, which one of them would you have liked the Jets to sign?
The correct and obvious answer is none of them at all.
That takes us to the Jets' final option to nab a quarterback of the future: the NFL draft.
The Jets were sitting with the No. 17 pick that year, and there were three sure-fire first-round quarterbacks in that year's draft. They were Matthew Stafford, Josh Freeman and Sanchez.
Stafford was the clear No. 1 pick overall, and the Lions weren't trading that pick. Sanchez was a consensus top-10 pick at the time while Freeman was slated to go in the bottom of the first round or early second round.
The Jets' choices were to trade up to grab Sanchez, take a chance on picking Freeman much higher than he deserved or trade down and hope Freeman fell to them.
It was at that point that Tannenbaum got bold and traded up to the No. 5 pick to draft Sanchez. The Jets swapped first-round picks with the Browns and also gave up Abraham Elam, Kenyon Coleman, Brett Ratliff and a second-round pick.
After working a trade with the Browns, the Buccaneers went on to draft Freeman in the Jets' original No. 17 draft spot.
That move was widely panned by draftniks at the time.
For those who think the Jets should have stayed put in the first round and took a chance on a quarterback in the later rounds, please tell me which quarterback you would have liked the Jets to pick.
They would have had their choice between Pat White, Curtis Painter, Stephen McGee, Rhett Bomar, Nate Davis, Tom Brandstater, Mike Teel or Keith Null.
One popular point that the ill-informed like to point out is that Sanchez should never have been in the draft in the first place. After all, even his coach at USC Pete Carroll said as much in a classless press conference when Sanchez declared.
But put yourself in Sanchez's shoes.
He was a clear top-10 pick and with highly-regarded quarterbacks like Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy and, yes, Tim Tebow slated to enter the 2010 draft, it made perfect sense for Sanchez to strike while the iron was hot.
Just ask Matt Barkley if Sanchez made the right choice.
Right now, the popular opinion is that the Jets made a mistake in drafting Sanchez too high. Let's take a look back, though, at what draft analysts thought of the pick at the time.
Cbssports.com's Pete Prisco gave the pick an A+ and declared "what a great move by the Jets."
John Czarnecki of foxsports.com gave the pick an A and said the Jets should have been forced to give up an additional second-round pick in the trade.
Evan Silva of nbcsports.com expanded on the pick a little further. He said:
We love their aggressive move. They targeted a franchise leader for the next decade and got him. The veterans the Jets gave up were just role players and Sanchez is a smart, accurate passer who can handle the pressure of New York.
Even Mel Kiper gave the Jets an A- and said the Jets selection of Sanchez made the draft because he was a "franchise-maker."
The grades weren't all positive for the Jets' selection of Sanchez, though. SI.com's Ross Tucker gave the Jets an F. He explained his grade by saying "it is hard for me to imagine USC quarterback Mark Sanchez being better as a rookie than fourth-year vet Kellen Clemens."
Right on the money, Ross.
I hope the sarcasm came through there, as Clemens can't get on the field and is 0-3 as a starter since that time.
In retrospect, the only real debate was whether the Jets should have stayed pat and made the giant leap of faith to draft Freeman at least 10 spots higher than he was slated to go.
While Freeman has shown great ability at times, he has been incredibly inconsistent while middling around in Tampa Bay.
He is having a good season this year, but would he have even made it this far in New York?
He threw 18 interceptions in nine starts as a rookie while going 3-6. Even if fans excused that as rookie jitters, would they have been as forgiving if Freeman had a year like he did in his third season in Tampa?
That year, he was 4-11 in 15 starts and threw 22 interceptions against 16 touchdowns.
If fans are trying to run Sanchez out of town after a 5-7 start to this year and 13 interceptions, what would they have done to Freeman if he performed the way he did in 2011?
Right now, Sanchez has a 36-29 record as a starter, including that 4-2 playoff record. Freeman stands at 23-29 and has yet to lead the Bucs to the playoffs.
So say what you will about Sanchez's play on the field. He has regressed behind a number of questionable moves by the front office and a near-complete overturn of his entire offense.
His decision-making hasn't progressed, and he has been careless with the football to be certain.
However, the next time someone wants to criticize the Jets for trading up to draft Sanchez, please laugh right in their face. Then when you are done, ask them what they thought the Jets should have done at that point in time with their quarterback situation.
They won't have an answer for you because they didn't start following the Jets seriously until Sanchez led the team to a miracle run to the AFC title game in 2009 and then duplicated that feat again the next season.
Follow RC Cos and the B/R Jets Report on twitter: @BR_Jets_Report.
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